10 things we learned from Nebraska's loss to Minnesota
1. This was the final nail in the coffin
Not that Mike Riley's chances of returning for a fourth season were very promising even going into Saturday's game, but the manner in which Nebraska dropped to 4-6 on the season in a 56-21 embarrassment all but sealed Riley's fate for good.
As the Huskers missed one tackle after another en route to a 409-yard rushing day for Minnesota, or once again struggled to find any sort of offensive identity, it became clearer than ever that NU had regressed to a new low point.
New athletic director Bill Moos could be heard yelling "Oh no! No!" and "Tackle him!" from the visiting A.D. suite next to the press box after several Gopher big plays.
After the game, Riley struggled for answers for why his team came out so flat and if he believed the players had quit on the season.
The next two weeks seem more like a formality at this point, and if things don't drastically improve in a hurry, it could very easily only continue to get worse for the Huskers.
2. The defense was awful
Just take a quick glance at the final stat sheet and you'll learn all you need to know about how bad things were for Nebraska's defense on Saturday.
Minnesota, which came into the game ranked 12th in the Big Ten in both scoring offense (23.4 ppg) and total offense (319.2 ypg), put together far and away its most productive outing of the season against the Huskers.
Along with the staggering 409 rushing yards, the Golden Gophers set season-highs in both points (54) and total yards (514) and averaged a whopping 8.4 yards on 61 offensive plays.
Three players rushed for 93 or more yards on the day, including 183 by a quarterback in Demry Croft who had a total of 154 rushing yards on 49 carries over the first nine games of the season.
That marked the first time since 1996 that NU has allowed 199 rushing yards or more in five straight games.
3. Lee's status in doubt after sudden exit
As if things couldn't much worse for Nebraska at the end of the first half, the Huskers learned at halftime that starting quarterback Tanner Lee would be out for the rest of the game after suffering an "impact migraine" at some point in the first two quarters.
Lee had been playing fairly well to start the game, completing 13-of-18 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown. But when the team went to the locker room for halftime, Lee's symptoms became too much for him to finish the game.
Riley said he wouldn't know much more on Lee's long-term status until further evaluations over the next few days, but did add that Lee had not been diagnosed with a concussion as of yet.
"Halfway through halftime someone came to me and said Tanner's in there talking to the doctors, he does not feel well," Riley said.
"I don't think he feels great right now. I went in right away to see him. He doesn't look bad, he's not going to talk badly. He's coherent, but I don't think he feels good right now."
4. Huskers again stumble to terrible start
The game literally couldn't have gotten off to a much worse start for Nebraska than to have Minnesota take the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.
Not only did that put the Huskers into a 7-0 hole just 13 seconds into the game, it also took much of the wind out of their sails before the day barely got started.
Nebraska has now been out-scored 101-55 in the first quarter of games this season, so Saturday was just the latest instance of NU stumbling out of the gates.
"The opening kickoff was a real killer for us," Riley said. "It didn't have to be a killer... It kept mounting from there."
5. The running back carousel continues
Just when you think you have Nebraska's running back rotation at least somewhat figured out, another shakeup comes along to add even more confusion at the position.
Despite the fact that he had carried the ball a combined five times for eight yards over the previous four games, junior Mikale Wilbon was suddenly back in the starting lineup at Minnesota.
Wilbon ended up rushing 10 times for 28 yards and a touchdown, marking his best individual output since his 13 carries for 60 yards at Illinois.
Junior Devine Ozigbo had led NU in rushing five of the past six games, and he was still able to match Wilbon's 10 carries for a team-high 37 yards and a score.
“Mikale was going this week and we needed a guy that was going to hit it off tackle quickly," offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said. "That’s why he’s in the game.”
6. NU snaps ugly streak with first rushing touchdowns in weeks
With Wilbon and Ozigbo both reaching the end zone, Nebraska was at least able to put an end to a rough stretch of ineffectiveness in the running game.
Prior to Wilbon's one-yard score with 8:57 left in the first quarter, the Huskers hadn't registered a rushing touchdown since Ozigbo's 15-yarder with 10:38 left in the second quarter at Illinois on Sept. 29.
That meant there was a gap of 286 minutes and 41 seconds of actual game time between NU's eighth and nine rushing touchdowns of the season.
7. Wilson finally gets his chance
Fans have been clamoring for Nebraska to give redshirt freshman offensive lineman Boe Wilson a chance to see what he can do in a game.
Even though it didn't come on the o-line, Wilson finally got that shot on Saturday.
Wearing a No. 46 jersey and lining up as a fullback in the backfield, the 6-foot-3, 295-pound native of Lee's Summit, Mo., threw the key blocks on both of Nebraska's rushing touchdowns on the day.
There was talk last year that Wilson could have played as a true freshman, but the staff decided to preserve his redshirt.
Even after starting right guard Tanner Farmer went down with an ankle injury two weeks ago, Wilson was still left on the sideline in favor of moving redshirt freshman Matt Farniok inside to guard.
Wilson has yet to get a true opportunity on the offensive line, but maybe his impressive lead blocking vs. Minnesota make his coaches take another look at his role.
8. O'Brien makes the most of his opportunity
Given the fact that Patrick O'Brien had only a handful of minutes during halftime to prepare himself to take over Nebraska's offense facing a 30-14 deficit, his first true debut came in less-than-ideal circumstances.
Even so, the redshirt freshman quarterback was still able to complete 12-of-18 passes for 137 yards despite being sacked six times in a span of two quarters.
As forgettable as the final outcome of the game may have been, O'Brien said he was glad to finally get an opportunity to show what he can do in the most extensive action of his young career.
"Just take advantage of the moment you're given," O'Brien said. "Just take every play one at a time and try to get better with each play. I mean, it was a great experience for me, but we've just got to get better as a team."
9. Spielman continues record-breaking season
Once again, J.D. Spielman was able to serve as one of the few bright spots for Nebraska on an otherwise miserable day.
With a game-high nine receptions for 141 yards, the redshirt freshman wide receiver continued to etch his name in the Husker record books.
Spielman now holds the NU freshman season records for both receptions (49) and yards (734), and he joined Nate Swift as only the second freshman to post multiple 100-yard receiving games.
With one more catch, the Eden Prairie, Minn., native would crack the top-10 on Nebraska's single-season receptions list.
Spielman also added 150 more yards on kickoff returns to finish with a career-high 291 all-purpose yards. Now with 1,445 total yards on the year, he passed Ahman Green's freshman record of 1,259 back in 1995.
Spielman's 291 all-purpose yards on Staurday rank as the fifth-most in school history and the second-most ever by a Husker freshman, trailing only Calvin Jones' 298 against Kansas in 1991.
10. Huskers say they'll keep fighting
For Nebraska to accomplish the one remaining season goal still technically alive at this point and go to a bowl game, it will have to win its two remaining games at Penn State and then at home vs. Iowa on Black Friday.
Given what the Huskers' showed on Saturday, it's hard to feel confident they'll have much of a chance in either of those games, making a 4-8 finish to the season a legitimate possibility.
However, as much as it looked like NU had already given up on the year during the blowout to Minnesota, the players and coaches still insist that the team isn't done fighting.
“Right now you have to inherently rely on the character of the people around you,” Riley said. “The players and the coaches. It sounds like a broken record, but the coaches will get together a plan and prepare. The players will have to call upon whatever their own personal pride to do the right thing.
“Whether or not their lights have been on all the way, whatever that is or the opinion is of what it looked like today, these are good kids.”